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Afterwards, Jangles and his new friend were treated to the village’s hospitality. They were excited to have been part of one of the Smiling Knight’s actual adventures, even though Jangles kept insisting that he was just an actor playing a character. When the two heroes – knight and squire – had eaten their fill and enjoyed a good night’s rest they went on their way, together, to seek out new adventures that would be immortalized in song. Once they were out of sights of the village, they said their goodbyes. There was only one problem: Glurf didn’t seem to want to go.
“I…uhm…aren’t we going on more adventures?”
Jangles the clown sighed. “I don’t go an actual adventures, Glurf.”
“…That wasn’t an adventure?”
“Well…sort of. I didn’t intend for it to be, though. I was forced by those bully knights you so expertly dispatched; thanks again, by the way. I owe you one.”
“Then let me travel with you!” Glurf insisted, “We’ll go on more adventures together!”
Jangles considered this for a moment. During his long and illustrious career as an entertainer, he had made more than a few enemies, like those jealous knights; he might just have a use for a giant toad. Still, he didn’t want to exploit a clearly naive youngster that seemed to look up to him.
“Didn’t you have somewhere to go?” Jangles asked.
“That can wait,” Glurf said hurriedly, “I want to go on more adventures.”
“Fine,” Jangles conceded. “You can join me on my travels.”
“I can’t promise there’ll be actual adventures, however. I’m a performer, not an actual knight errant from the songs.”
“As long as I get to tag along, I’m happy,” the giant toad said, beaming.
“Alight then. First I’m going to head back to the tavern where I last saw Pedro, my special effects wizard; he took off with our money.”
Glurf gasped. “A former friend turned traitor, running off with the treasure!”
“Not treasure, really, just-”
“We must find him at once! Come on, Smiling Knight!”
Jangles sighed. There was no reasoning with this giant toad; might as well run with it.
“Yeah,” Jangles decided, “Let’s find Pedro.”
The road back to Dumbarton would take much longer than the trip to Bredon, since the knights had taken back the donkey they had so kindly let Jangles use. On foot, it would no doubt take several days. It was the height of summer and the heat of the sun was shimmering, smudging Jangles’ make-up. He had not had the opportunity to take it off; it would be silly to wear the harlequin outfit without the matching face-paint. The tight clothes stuck to his body, unbearably sweaty in the heat, as the bells on his hat jangled listlessly.
Meanwhile, Glurf the toad was in an even worse shape. A coldblooded amphibian does not do well in the heat if they do not have the chance to hydrate themselves. The giant creature was slogging along, trying to stay strong but obviously slugging, its mouth opening and closing like that of a panting dog. It was miserable for all.
“W-w-w-what?” Glurf blurted out bashfully, averting his eyes.
Jangles sighed. “I mean literally hot. As in, uncomfortable due to the heat. Yes?”
“O,” Glurf said, sounding disappointed. “I’m alright. Don’t worry about me – we need to get to Dumbarton to find the treacherous wizard!”
Yet, as he was saying this, Glurf swayed on his feet and toppled over. Jangles rushed forwards to catch the fainting maiden, and was subsequently squashed under his weight.
“Alright,” sounded a muffled Jangles from underneath the toad, “that settles it; we’re heading to the river. I could use a wash.”
The closest river was the Tyr, a broad trench of crystal-clear, almost turquoise-colored water. From the beating heart of Fairspring in the mountains, its veins ran all the way through the kingdom, supplying thousands with fresh and drinkable water. Today, it would serve the sweaty Jangles and dehydrated Glurf well.
Panting and heaving, the giant frog lumbered towards the turquoise water. Jangles had to give him a final shove, toppling the brown amphibian into the water, where it crashed into with a splash. Eager to join in and remove the last of the sweat-smudged paint from his faith, Jangles wriggled out if his tight harlequin outfit and was about to remove his undergarments when a revitalized Glurf stopped him with a sonorous screech.
“What? What?” A spooked Jangles asked, “Is there something in the water?”
“No, b-but – you can’t remove those!” Glurf said, pointing at Jangles’ underwear and covering his own eyes. “It’s not proper!”
“You’re naked!” Jangles protested. “Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Well of course I’m naked,” Glurf explained patiently, “I’m a toad. You’re human.”
“O, so just because you’re a toad and I’m human you’re allowed to run around naked and I’m not?” Jangles asked rhetorically.
“Yes,” answered Glurf.
Under protesting, Jangles dipped into the water, still wearing his undergarments. The water was refreshing, and he was grateful to finally be able to clear the remaining paint off his face. Too bad he couldn’t redo it until they reached Dumbarton, since all his stuff, including his paint, was still in the tavern, if Pedro hadn’t taken it all. Jangles would look incredibly silly in his harlequin outfit without the face-paint, but it’ll have to do, since apparently he was not allowed to run around naked.
Jangles let his lanky body float like a log, savoring the moment. “This is great,” Jangles remarked, “I can’t imagine how good this must feel for you.”
“Huh? Yeah, o yeah,” Glurf said, sounding distracted.
Jangles tilted his head to look at his new companion. They had only known each-other for a few hours, but Jangles could tell that sadness had once again taken hold of Glurf. He looked very much the same as he had at the bottom of the well where he had found him.
“O…uhm…nothing…?” Glurf said unconvincingly.
“We haven’t known each-other for a day and I can already tell that you’re a terrible liar.”
“I’m not lying!” Glurf protested. “Nothing’s wrong, yet…I still feel sad, somehow? I don’t know.”
Jangles considered this for a moment. “A deep, existential sense of directionless unfulfillment, then? I understand completely.”
“I don’t know what any of that means,” Glurf admitted with a mournful sigh. “I’m just sad, I guess.”
“Alright,” said Jangles slowly, not quite knowing what to make of this. “Would you feel better if we continued on our quest, squire?”
“I guess,” Glurf moaned. “I dunno.”
In awkward silence the duo finished their bath. When they were both back on land and dried up, Glurf’s mood inexplicably swung back to the other extreme.
“Onwards!” the now-chipper toad belted, “To adventure!”
“Weren’t you just inexplicably sad?”
“I don’t know what that word means,” Glurf said cheerfully, “but I’m fine now! Yay! The Smiling Knight and his Squire Glurf on the road! Who knows what thrills lie in wait?”
“This is freaking me out,” Jangled confessed. “I just…- was there something in the water or something?”
“What do you mean?”
“Jump back inside.”
Glurf leaped back into the water. When he resurfaced he instantly looked sad again.
“How are you feeling?”
“I…I dunno,” moaned Glurf ruefully, “I mean, what’s the point, right?”
“Alright, now get out again.”
“I guess. Whatever.”
Glurf climbed out, and as soon as his feet touched dry ground his frown turned into a wide smile.
“Let’s go! Onwards, to adventure!”
“This is seriously weird,” Jangled remarked, pondering. “the river seems to affect your mood somehow.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, as soon as you dip in, you get sad. Does this always happen when you’re in water?”
“No, I like water,” said Glurf. “Just not this water. It feels…sad.”
“The water feels sad.”
Jangles ran a hand through his long, still half-wet fair head of hair. “I’m not sure what that means, but I do know that people drink this water. And if it makes you sad, if it feels wrong to you, well…”
Glurf’s eyes lit up. “Do you think it might be cursed?!”
“Possibly,” Jangled admitted. “I didn’t feel anything, but you’re a toad; you’re closer to water, so it might only affect you, or it might just affect you more strongly. Whichever the case might be, it’s bad news. We can’t risk the people of this kingdom becoming permanently gloomy. It’ll be bad for business.”
“A curse of gloom,” Glurf said breathlessly. “And two heroes to thwart it!”
Jangles scraped his throat and gave Glurf a harsh look.
“Sorry,” he apologized, “One hero and his loyal squire.”
“Not the point,” said Jangles. “Anyhow, we should follow the river towards its source, see if your sadness gets any worse. Maybe we can do something about it.”
“Yeah! The Smiling Knight and the River of Gloom!”
“That does have a nice ring to it,” Jangles admitted, “it should make for a good story.”
“But what about your evil former-colleague that ran off with your stuff?”
“That can wait,” said Jangles, who couldn’t help but get excited besides his better judgment. “Onwards, to adventure!”
And with that, the Smiling Knight and his squire were off.
The Tyr was easy enough to follow. All Jangles and Glurf had to do was to move in the opposite direction of its flow and they would eventually reach the source. It was much more pleasant to travel by the stream where it was cool than to slog under the sweltering heat without any shelter or relief from the sun. Even if the water was allegedly cursed, that didn’t make it any less cool and refreshing.
Moving from village to village along the riverbank, playing the lute to earn just enough coin for food and lodging, the clown and the toad moved upstream. Everywhere Jangles went he was treated with hospitality; children of every town were eager to hear his stories, and his tale of the three bully knights that teased the toad at the bottom of the well was an instant hit, especially since the actual toad was there with him as proof. Glurf roused much initial suspicion, but this any anxiety was easily dispatched by a few jokes by Jangles.
However, as Jangles and Glurf got closed to the source of the Tyr, the clown’s suspicions seemed to be confirmed. It was subtle at first. Crowds were harder to entertain; harder to make laugh, less eager to smile. The gloom that took Glurf whenever he dipped into the river seemed to have descended on the villagers that drank from the river, and the effect was more powerful the closer they got to the source. Eventually, not even a trained professional could make the dour villages on the outskirts of Fairspring laugh. This was new to Jangles, who was used to being able to make anyone laugh. The clown was determined: Any curse that was able to suppress his powers of comedy must not be allowed to spread.
Finally, the duo reached Fairspring proper. For generations, Fairspring had been a proud spa-town, known for its miraculous mineral water that could cure any ailment. Seeking cures for the incurable, many aristocrats traveled to this place and the the town catered to their needs, growing rich in the process. There were dozens of bathhouses, sauna’s and other resorts scattered throughout the town, which was known to be the cleanest in this kingdom or any other; the white-and-blue marble buildings sparkled in the sun and the streets were spotless.
Yet, despite these riches, the inexplicable gloom that had taken a hold on so many towns along the river Tyr had taken a firmer hold on this lovely town. Everywhere people trudged along with deep frowns on their faces, sighing and moaning. There was not a single smile to be seen anywhere.
“This is even worse than I could have possibly imagined,” Jangles remarked as he regarded the gloomy denizens of Fairspring. “It would take an army of clowns to get as much of a giggle out of these troubles folks.”
Glurf let out a deep, deep sigh. “Yeah. It’s terrible. Everything’s terrible.”
Even though they had been careful not to have come in contact with the contaminated gloom-water, they still had to drink and Glurf, being sensitive to the curse, had gotten extremely gloomy. Jangles had been effected, too; yet, his heart was strong, and was still able t muster a smile wide enough for both.
“I should have stayed in that well,” Glurf moaned, “at least I was safe there.”
“Don’t talk like that, chum!” Jangles said, forcing himself to sound cheerful, “if you had been stuck in that well, you would have never gotten to visit this lovely town. Have you noticed how clean everything is? Marvelous! How do they keep it so spotless?
“It doesn’t matter,” said Glurf. “It’ll get dirty eventually. No matter how many times you clean something, it always gets dirty again.”
It was no use. Nothing could cheer Glurf up as he was now, Jangles knew. They would have to get to the bottom of this before it could get any worse.
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